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Health Initiative Links University Of Iowa To Wellmark Blue Cross

Armen Hareyan's picture

A unique partnership agreement between the University of Iowa College of Public Health and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield provides an innovative model for collaboration among Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans and academic organizations.

The Wellmark-College of Public Health Community Health Initiative, begun in 2002, reflects common interests and a commitment to improving the health of families and communities in the region the two organizations serve, according to lead author Lawrence Prybil, Ph.D., professor of health management and senior advisor to the dean of the UI College of Public Health.

"Through interactions over several years, the College of Public Health and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield developed a relationship based on mutual trust and an understanding of the respective challenges facing the two organizations," Prybil said. "At the same time, both parties were oriented to collaboration, and this provided the foundation for a new form of partnership."

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Under the partnership, the two organizations annually identify activities and projects on which to collaborate. During the first four years of the agreement, 26 projects were initiated focusing on community education/service and research/development. Examples include creation of a secure "data warehouse" to allow a limited set of Wellmark data to be used for interdisciplinary research and educational purposes; collaboration on a "Centers of Excellence" project funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and designed to help employers, employees and their families prevent health problems and promote healthy living; and Wellmark support for a College of Public Health educational outreach program that provides public health educational programs in communities throughout Iowa.

"The connection to an academic and research institution like the University of Iowa helps meet Wellmark's growing need for scientific knowledge and research capabilities," said co-author Peter Roberts, group vice president of provider relations and health management at the Des Moines-based Blues Plan.

"As large employer groups struggle with the rising cost of health care, they are demanding evidence-based programs aimed at improving the health of their employees and reducing overall health care expenses. The College of Public Health has been able to provide Wellmark with a respected source of expertise and advice on public health issues critical to Wellmark's customers and communities," Roberts added.

The Community Health Initiative is but one example of the many opportunities for collaboration between universities and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans, the authors said.

"Schools of public health, because of their mission, naturally lend themselves to this type of partnership," Prybil said. "However, we believe this model can provide a general framework for collaboration between Blues Plans and other academic units who share a common commitment to improving the health of the communities they serve."